After the Iranians and the P5 + 1 emerged from their meeting in Istanbul yesterday they announced that they had agreed to meet again in six weeks in Baghdad. The reaction from Washington was good and from Jerusalem was bad. In fact both Obama and Netanyahu are wrong.
Netanyahu’s reasoning was they did not get any agreement from the Iranians whatsoever except for another meeting; pure stalling tactics. He told President Obama that the P5 + 1 gave Iran a “freebie”.
Obama argued that the Iranians seem eager to continue the conversation, but talk is cheap and action is elusive. There is no relaxation of sanctions and the pressure remains.
Both of the leaders however must play to three audiences; at home, to their ally, and to the Iranians. In this regard, therefore all is on track.
First there are the facts:
No one expected a quick fix. Everyone knew that from the beginning.
Negotiations take time and the Israelis know that even though for home consumption Bibi is demanding instant gratification.
There appear to have been serious side conversations between the head of the European Parliament and the Iranians concerning the effect of the sanctions on Iran.
The West gave the Iranians no sense that there would be any concessions on the sanctions pressure—at least at this time.
The West was pleased that the Iranians understand Obama’s seriousness of purpose and, implicitly, his November timeframe.
The Iranians went to the table having seen the failure in North Korea’s test last week which reduced their bite somewhat.
The Iranians are clearly not close to having any operational weapons, otherwise they would have been much more rambunctious.
When they arrived in Istanbul, the Iranians gave indications that the sanctions were the subject of extensive tension in Teheran.
Now comes the politics:
Netanyahu must protest “too much” otherwise his right will be all over him although he knows he promised Obama until November barring any new variables.
Netanyahu can never appear content and must always appear unsatisfied.
Netanyahu will continue to attack Obama for endangering Israel but the President will only answer him on point and otherwise grin and bear it.
The Iranians must constantly believe Bibi is frustrated with the lack of progress and merely timing his moment of attack.
Wednesday is Holocaust Memorial Day and that weighs on Israel’s mind as it considers a possible existential threat.
President Obama must always let it appear they are making progress although he knows what he needs to achieve before November or else the throttle will be in his hands.
The President needs to placate the doves in his own party and the Romney hawks who will be relentless in demanding a stronger posture by Obama against Iran. Campaignng is so much easier than governing.
Obama needs to insure that the diplomatic negotiation track is totally exhausted regardless of the heat that it generates from the Israelis.
The Iranians must always feel uneasy as to whether Obama can truly contain the Israelis, so they will recognize the clock is ticking.
So now we have six weeks of saber rattling and then the talks may get interesting.